Becoming Invisible
A Commentary by Father Joseph Chamblain, OSM
Assumption Catholic Church


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One afternoon a couple of weeks ago I slipped out of the Rectory to see a movie called My Friend Dahmer. When I got back the first question I was asked was, “Why in the world would you want to see a movie like that?” It was a fair question. After all, Jeffrey Dahmer ranks among our most repugnant serial killers, having murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Some of his victims he also ate. But this movie took place before any of that happened. In fact, it is quite remarkable for its sense of restraint. It tells the story of Jeff Dahmer as a high school student and is based on a book written by one of his high school classmates. One might expect that someone who turned out to be a social misfit in the most extreme way would have been bullied in high school. Actually, he was not. What the movie shows us was that he was mostly invisible: invisible to his classmates, invisible to his teachers, and invisible to his parents. He was only noticed when he did something truly outrageous. The movie leaves us with the question, “Could his story have turned out differently if someone had actually gotten to know Jeffrey Dahmer and helped him address his inner demons?”

 Becoming invisible is not just an occupational hazard of future serial killers. A society that generally values people according to what they contribute to the economy necessarily begets a lot of invisible people. Some are homeless. Some have mental health issues. Some are unwed mothers. Some sit alone in the high school cafeteria. Some are runaway teens. Some are in jail. Some are ex-offenders unable to find a job. Some hold low wage jobs in hotels and restaurants. Some are undocumented immigrants. Some are middle-class people like Dahmer. Some are wealthy people who have gotten lost trying to live up to others’ expectations. Some are elderly people who have outlived their friends and loved ones. Some people begging on the street corner become invisible because most passers-by pretend not to see them. Other invisible people live lives of quiet desperation. Some invisible people work at being unseen, out of a sense of shame at who they have become or who they think they have become. I had a psychology professor who used the term “being unselfed” to describe the experience of not being noticed or acknowledged.  When it seems like nobody really sees you, you tend to disappear even more. You wonder if you really do exist in the first place.

The Christmas shopping season is already in full swing, and people are rushing about in great numbers spending money and preparing for holiday gatherings. During this time of year, invisible people can feel even more lost. Yes, there are no shortage of Christmas meals for the homeless on Christmas Day and usually no shortage of volunteers that day either. But that is just one small beacon in a very large ocean. During the coming weeks, I invite you to be more conscious of the invisible people. Stop pretending that you do not see the man with a paper cup at the street corner and at least say “Good Morning”. Think about the people who may be quietly grieving the loss of a loved one and who will be spending their first Christmas without that special person. Try to include them in something. Say a prayer for those in prison and for those who have to work on Christmas because they really need the money. While the world is already celebrating Christmas, our Church is observing Advent. Advent is meant to be a time of looking for and waiting on Christ, not only as he comes at Christmas but also as he will come at the end of time. Allowing that Advent spirit to enter our consciousness might alert us to the opportunities we have to welcome Christ in the invisible people whose path we cross each day. 

An eighteenth century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, while speaking on the Scripture that God created the world out of nothing, said, “When we help something or someone be seen that was previously unseen, it is like we are emulating the very creation of the universe.” Paying attention to the invisible people is a very Godly thing. For God knows us all even better than we know ourselves. There are no invisible people in God’s eyes.